Soccer player head injuries could be reduced by adjusting the ball

Over the last several years, a lot of focus has been put on the significance and consequence of head injuries involved in sports. Researchers at Purdue University say that up to 22 percent of soccer injuries or concussions that result from players using their heads to direct the ball during a game. Researchers say that to reduce the risk of injury, their study recommends preventing how hard the ball hits the head by inflating balls to a lower pressure and swapping them when they get wet.

According to the study, inflating balls to pressures on the lower end of ranges enforced by soccer governing bodies, including the NCAA and FIFA, could reduce the force associated with potential head injury by about 20 percent. The study also found that if the ball gets too wet can quickly surpass the NCAA weight limit for gameplay while producing a significant impact.

Researcher Eric Nauman says that if the ball has too high of a pressure or is too saturated, or both, it turns into a weapon. Soccer governing bodies already regulate ball pressure, size, mass, and water absorption at the game's start. The Purdue study evaluates the effects of each ball parameter on producing an impact associated with potential neurophysiological changes.

Researchers also evaluated ball velocity and found that the variable contributes the most to how hard the ball hits. However, ball pressure and water absorption are more realistic to control. Past research shows that professional soccer players head the ball about 12 times throughout a single game and about 800 times over an entire season. At the lower end of allowed pressure ranges, the ball's peak impact force already aligns with pressures specified by the manufacturer on the ball.

The new study sheds light on how the weight and impact of the ball can change under different conditions. The team hopes that sports governing bodies and manufacturers will use the research to further reduce the risk of lasting bring functional or structural injury due to head impacts during normal soccer gameplay. The team evaluated three soccer ball sizes in their study, including size 4, 4.5, and 5.